LeAnne: Let's discuss The Art of Sandra Bowden. How did that book come about?
James: The Art of Sandra Bowden developed out of an opportunity that presented itself because Sandra was having a retrospective of forty years of work and was nearing the conclusion of her tenure of service as president of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). The Art of Sandra Bowden is a testament to Sandra's faithfulness to her art and to God. When Sandra committed herself to being an artist of faith, she did not know any other Christians in the visual arts. Forty years later, I have students who cannot imagine that sort of situation. They have grown up in homes, churches, and schools that provide them with opportunities to intimately connect their faith and art. For artists of Sandra's generation, there was always a question of, "Can you be a Christian and an artist?" When I was a student, the question was, "How can I be a Christian and an artist, in a philosophical sense?" Today, there's a sense of, "Let's get to it. How can I be a part of this art world?"
Sometimes, when things change as much as they have for artists of faith in the past forty years, we take these changes for granted. Artists of faith emerging today owe an immeasurable debt to artists like Sandra and there should be a historical record of her work so that we don't forget where we have come from and how God has blessed us through her.
LM: You are an Assistant Professor of Art History with NYCAMS. What are two or three things that you want your students to have learned when they leave your classroom?
JR: The New York Center for Art and Media Studies (NYCAMS) is a semester studio program that provides undergraduate art majors from across the United States and Europe with the opportunity of working in New York. As an art historian, I teach two classroom-based classes. I say "classroom-based" because I try to get out of the classroom, to galleries, museums, and artists' studios as much as possible. These two classes are "The History of Christianity and Art" and "Contemporary Art". In both classes, I hope to 1) provide students with tools, such as visual literacy and an understanding of the creative process, that they can employ in their studio work and 2) give them a sense of the historical and contemporary contexts in which they, as artists of faith, are working.
LM: What else would you like to say to my readers--both the artists and nonartists--about this topic of Christians in the arts?
JR: I would encourage your readers to be shapers of culture. Books like Objects of Grace, organizations like CIVA, and institutions like NYCAMS demonstrate the vitality, diversity, and quality of work being produced by artists of faith. I would encourage your readers to become patrons of these artists, especially emerging artists. (One place to find these artists might be through CIVA.) I encourage people of every level of income to purchase at least one original work of contemporary art every year. Typically, you can get a good work of art for between $1,000 and $5,000. Someone might say, "I don't have $1,000." If you set aside $100 a month, in a year you will have $1,200. In that year, the art patron should be visiting museums and galleries to educate themselves on what makes a good work of art as well as reading books and magazines, such as IMAGE, about contemporary art. That way, when you have saved enough for a quality work of art, you will have the tools, such as visual literacy and a conception of what makes a great work of contemporary art, to collect a work that will challenge and encourage you creatively and spiritually for the rest of your life in ways that could not have been anticipated.